Friday, August 27, 2010

More Information Available on Meaningful Use

In my initial post on the final rules for meaningful use, I mentioned a number of other resources to describe the rules. Since last month, a number of other new readable sources of information have appeared.

Dr. Blumenthal's overview of HITECH in the New England Journal of Medicine has been officially published.

Readers of this blog know of my enthusiasm for the Geek Doctor, HITECH Answers, and Mr. HIStalk sites, but another source of information on meaningful use I value highly is Computer Sciences Corp.. They have not only issued "updates" on a variety of topics, including meaningful use, certification, and others, but also have established a Meaningful Use Community.

The Health Affairs blog has a post by the Obama Administration's two major leaders for health IT, Drs. Blumenthal and Berwick.

Another interesting post in that blog comes from Kevin Weiss and Sheldon Horowitz of the American Board of Medical Specialties. They note that the five healthcare goals for meaningful use overlap significantly with the six core competencies for physician maintenance of certification developed several years ago. They advocate that the meaningful use goals be aligned with maintenance of certification for physicians. I would agree that being able to use information and IT systems is an essential skill for the 21st-century physician (or any healthcare professional for that matter, and even for patients, researchers, policy makers, and others).

Naturally, during a monumental time like this, there are some express concerns. As typically happens, some argue the adoption of EHRs is moving too fast (American Hospital Association, Huffington Post Investigative Fund, and the Washington Times [the full breadth of the political spectrum!]) while others advocate it is moving too slow (The Leapfrog Group).

I maintain that no one really knows the right pace to move forward. We need to maintain flexibility, adjusting our plans when necessary. But inaction is not an option either. I do agree this has elements of a grand experiment whose outcome we will know only many years, lives, and dollars from now. But just as a I feel about healthcare reform, the status quo is not tenable, and action is required. Translating ideals among competing financial and other interests is always a messy task, but it is not reason for inaction.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Update on ONC workforce projects

Although summer is historically "down time" in academia, this summer has been anything but down. Like many people in the health IT arena, I have been busy with our Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC)-related projects, taking advantage of what colleague Paul Tang calls the "opportunity of a generation." In this post, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide an update on the ONC workforce development programs in which OHSU is heavily involved.

As I reported in April, OHSU received grants in two of the four workforce programs. One of the programs in which we received a grant is part of three interrelated programs. These programs collectively aim to rapidly build the front-line workforce to achieve the EHR adoption goals of the HITECH legislation. The project OHSU is involved in is the Curriculum Development Centers Program, where five universities (OHSU, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and UAB) are developing instructional materials for another program, the Community College Consortia to Educate Health Information Technology Professionals Program. The latter program is funding five regional consortia to deliver short-term six-month certificate programs that focus on six workforce roles that ONC envisions as required to achieve the HITECH agenda. About 80-85 community colleges are in the five regional consortia, all of whom are developing short-term certificate programs around the workforce roles, which will commence this fall.

Since literally the day the grant was awarded, the curriculum development centers have been hard at work, first planning and now implementing the first version of the instructional materials. (Two additional versions of the curriculum will follow on during the two years of the project.) The five universities are each developing four "components," which are roughly equivalent to semester-long courses, for a total of 20. Each community college will free to use all, some, or none of the instructional materials we are developing. ONC has designated a "set table" of these components for six workforce roles to which the community college certificate programs will teach.

The OHSU Curriculum Development Center is further designated as the National Training and Dissemination Center (NTDC). We have the additional tasks of training the community college in the use of the materials and developing a dissemination Web site to host them and collect feedback. A major part of the training task will be a training event that will be held next week (August 9-11) in Portland. About 250 community college faculty will attend the event to receive training in the use of the materials. The event will also feature other sessions on education-related issues, such as implementing distance learning in health IT and how to manage classes that comprise students with it backgrounds and students with healthcare backgrounds.

The dissemination Web site will host the materials that all community college faculty from the 80-85 community college partners can access. They will be able to use the materials "out of the box" or mix and match pieces of them with other curricula at their institutions. All of the materials are distance learning-oriented, not only slides and lesson plans but also voice-over-slide narrations.

Another project that the Curriculum Development Centers project touches on is the Competency Examination for Individuals Completing Non-Degree Training Program, which will assess the competencies attained by graduates in the community college programs for the six workforce roles.

OHSU is also involved in the fourth and final workforce development program, the University-Based Training (UBT) Program. This program will fund longer (but still short-term) study in six additional workforce roles in university settings. OHSU is one of nine universities or consortia thereof (OHSU, Colorado, Columbia, Duke, George Washington, Indiana, Johns Hopkins, Minnesota, and Texas Tech) that will be using the grant to subsidize students in Type 1 (less than one year) and Type 2 (1-2 year) programs.

OHSU is implementing the UBT grant as a source of financial aid for our existing graduate programs. More information can be found on our web site, which has a new redirection URL, Type 1 students are funded to complete our Graduate Certificate Program in one year, while Type 2 students will be funded to complete the Master of Biomedical Informatics (MBI) program in 18 months of full-time study. As OHSU is on an academic quarter system, with four quarters of equal length, Type 1 students will need to take an average of two classes per quarter to complete the program in one year. This is more than the typical student in the program who works full-time and would find more than one course at a time challenging. The MBI program requires 52 credits, with 46 in courses (about 16 three-credit courses) and six in a capstone project. To do the MBI in 18 months will require full-time enrollment over six consecutive quarters. While the regular MBI program can be done on-line (with students required to complete two on-campus short courses during their studies), ONC-funded students will need to be on-campus students.

The OHSU UBT grant will allow 135 Graduate Certificate and 13 MBI students to be funded over three years. We have completed two cycles of applications already for the certificate program and one for the master's program. Twelve students started the certificate program in the summer term. We have also offered funding to 41 certificate and 8 master's students to start in the fall. Another round of certificate program applications will take place in the fall for admission in the winter quarter and continue every quarter until the funding is exhausted. A second round of master's degree applications will take place for the fall of 2011.

We are also adding other features to the program for ONC-funded students. They will be required to do a practicum (certificate students, one quarter) or internship (MBI students, 2-3 quarters, and can comprise the capstone project if accompanied by a write-up). Distance students will be required to arrange their own practicum experiences, with our guidance. We are working with healthcare organizations, industry, regional extension centers, and others to make these experiences available. We are also putting in place a career counseling service for these students.

Now that the final rules for meaningful use are out, the state health information exchanges and regional extension centers are being launched, research and demonstration are funded by the SHARP and Beacon programs respectively, and the academic programs for workforce development are starting up, all of the major pieces of HITECH are in place. The grand experiment is beginning! Projects like this never quite turn out as you expect, but I am certain that healthcare will be better from all of this, and I am quite confident that a more robust educational infrastructure will emerge from the workforce development programs.